As President-elect Donald Trump‘s administration takes shape, Star Trek alum George Takei has penned an impassioned essay imploring the country’s incoming leaders to not repeat the mistakes of the past and to use extreme caution when considering the possibility of a national Muslim registry.
In a Washington Post essay published Friday, the 79-year-old recounted his experience of being forced into a Japanese-American internment camp at age 5, and openly worried that the rhetoric he’s heard from Trump and his surrogates suggest that they would not rule out a similar measure for Muslim-Americans.
“The stigmatization, separation and labeling of our fellow humans based on race or religion has never led to a more secure world,” he wrote. “But it has too often led to one where the most vulnerable pay the highest price.”
Takei expressed concern over the “dangerous talk” he has heard recently, pointing to Megyn Kelly’s interview Wednesday with prominent Trump supporter Carl Higbie, co-chair of Great America PAC. While addressing Trump transition team member Kris Kobach’s suggestion that the new administration could reinstate a national registry for immigrants from countries where terrorist groups were active, Higbie suggested that the Japanese-American internment camps set a precedent for such a measure.
“We’ve done it based on race, we’ve done it based on religion, we’ve done it based on region,” Mr. Higbie said. “We’ve done it with Iran back — back a while ago. We did it during World War II with Japanese.”
Takei says in his essay that such talk opens “very old and very deep wounds.”
“The internment was a dark chapter of American history, in which 120,000 people, including me and my family, lost our homes, our livelihoods, and our freedoms because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. Higbie speaks of the internment in the abstract, as a ‘precedent’ or a policy, ignoring the true human tragedy that occurred.”
(According to The New York Times, Higbie said in a phone call the next morning that “there is historical, factual precedent to do things that are not politically popular and sometimes not right, in the interest of national security,” he said, adding that he “fundamentally” disagreed with “the internment camp mantra and doing it at all.”)
Japanese-Americans in internment camp
The actor and social media darling went on to paint a vivid and grim picture of life at the internment camp, recounting how he and his family were forced out of their home at gunpoint and initially forced to live in a “single smelly stall” within a horse stable.
Later, a rail car — with its blinds drawn “for our own protection, they said” — took the family more than 1,000 miles to the pungent swamps of Arkansas at the Rohwer Relocation Center: “really, it was a prison.”
Japanese-Americans in internment camp
“Armed guards looked down upon us from sentry towers; their guns pointed inward at us; searchlights lit pathways at night. We understood. We were not to leave,” he wrote, and pointed out that it was actually a Democratic president — Franklin Delano Roosevelt — who sanctioned the camps, which shows that “demagoguery and race-baiting knows no party.”
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Now, Takei says he is troubled to hear that Trump himself also declined to fully denounce America’s decision to force families like his into the camps. He pointed to the then-candidate’s interview with TIME last December, in which he said that “I would have had to be there at the time to tell you, to give you a proper answer. I certainly hate the concept of it.”
Takei makes it clear that statements like that raise deep concerns.
Let us all be clear: “National security” must never again be permitted to justify wholesale denial of constitutional rights and protections. If it is freedom and our way of life that we fight for, our first obligation is to ensure that our own government adheres to those principles. Without that, we are no better than our enemies.”